Upon entering one's local multiplex cinema, one might be forgiven for mistaking its primary function. There is a ticket sales area with a relatively inconspicuous listing of the films showing. It is only when one has progressed into the darkness of the auditorium that the main function becomes clear. Before that, in the very spacious and brightly lit foyer, frequently devoid of any cinema-specific paraphernalia, what one is most aware of is food. Ice-cream and pick 'n' mix sweets and soft drinks, and hot dogs and nachos and, of course, popcorn, lots of popcorn. Indeed lots of everything - all of the food seems to be served in gigantic containers - even the 'regular Pepsi'. A striking feature of the contemporary landscape is the endless provision of food outlets which supplement the main activity or purpose of a whole raft of commercial premises. Thus the sports stadium and the leisure and health club, the airport, bus or train station, the museum and the art gallery, the bookshop, the supermarket and the shopping mall may all be placed alongside the workplace and the cinema we began with, to give a strong sense of the range of options currently available for eating outside the home.
Any commercial enterprise of any size today would appear to need to offer some form of sustenance - it is apparently not possible to survive for more than a very short time without snacking. Indeed, Fischler (1980) has claimed that we now inhabit an 'empire of snacks'. Although this is not an entirely recent development, there clearly has been an increase in the volume of foods consumed outside the home. In 1989, Finkelstein predicted that by the end of the twentieth century two in three meals in the USA would be purchased and consumed outside the home (Finkelstein, 1989:1). A few years later Christina Hardyment, drawing on surveys of food consumption in Britain, estimated that 'meals consumed out of the home' constituted 'almost half of the average household's meal occasions' (1995:193).